Private property along the Chehalis River in Aberdeen soon won’t be a welcome spot for the homeless to camp and trespass because the new owner, Rognlin’s Inc., wants to clear and clean up the land.
And with that in mind, people living along a section of riverfront near River Street and the Chehalis River bridge have been told to move along.
“Where are we supposed to go now?” asked Michelle Hinkle.
Hinkle, who moved here from Puyallup, has been living outdoors for three years.
“It was only supposed to be three days,” she remembered sadly last week.
Hinkle has amassed quite a few items over this time period. To most people it appears to be junk. But if someone new to the river front needs something to build a campsite, she might have what they need and is usually willing to provide it.
Like her and her friends, she views most newcomers as people simply “trying to survive out here,” she said.
Schave and local law enforcement emphasize the new property owners have the right to ask these people to leave because the homeless are essentially squatters and can be cited for trespassing on private land.
The Rognlins “have been very good with the people out there,” he said.
Late last week, some city officials met with Rognlin representatives at the site.
“We’re looking to solve the (homeless) problem,” Aberdeen City Council President Peter Schave said Friday.
After a great deal of effort to clean up some of the riverfront last year, it’s once again in need of care and poses safety concerns. Last week the weeds were extremely high and there are used needles and condoms scattered on the ground. Machines have since cut down large swaths of the overgrowth.
“I was surprised how much traffic goes in and out there,” Schave said.
The people camping there could move down river but they’ll still be trespassing. Schave anticipates at least some of the displaced could end up downtown, which is what the city and business owners there don’t want.
Schave also explained not everyone camping along the river causes problems, but property owners such as the Rognlins and Quigg Brothers, a face myriad of issues related to the homeless campers.
“They’ve put a lot of investment into equipment (that is sitting on the property) but it gets vandalized fairly regularly,” Schave said. “And people steal anything they can haul off — like lumber and metal.”
Cheryl Hancock agreed with Schave about what is likely to happen. She helped organize a petition-signing effort meant to let city officials know they’ve found efforts to deal with the homeless population in Aberdeen insufficient.
“It seemed as if there had been some improvement recently,” Hancock said at a recent council meeting.
Hancock also said she’s seen more homeless people along the river in and near Morrison Riverfront Park, where the Splash Festival is held each July 4, and in the neighboring retail area.
“I thought the homeless people were gone from there,” she said. “But I’ve seen new people there panhandling in the shopping center.”
Hancock said another possible change that might bring more homeless people into the downtown business district would be if Trave-Lure ends up having to close permanently because state health officials find it again doesn’t meet health and safety standards. Howard and Cindy Kim say they intend to continue operating as a motel only and are trying to bring the property up to code by the state’s Aug. 29 deadline.
“We’ve got to find a solution to all of this,” Schave added. “But I don’t know what it is.”
Police Chief Robert Torgeson said Monday that officers patrolling the riverfront hand out cards referring the homeless camping out there to the Coastal Community Action Program, which provides coordinated entry for housing. It’s where people who are unsheltered or homeless can get initial advice an assistance in getting off of the streets.
Employees of the organization have been out there as well, he said.
Eric Hamm, executive director of the Olympic Beacon Group, an anti-poverty organization, said the homeless campers had time to get ready.
“They were prepared,” he said. “A similar thing happened last year. “